The Mind-Body Connection: 5 Ways Regular Exercise Boosts Mental Health

exercise boosts mental health - picture of a brain lifting weights


It’ll come as no surprise to hear that exercise is good for you, but did you know that as well has helping you physically, there is also strong research showing that exercise boosts mental health just as much as physical health?


Exercise is one of those things that we all know is good to be doing, but it’s not always easy to find the time or motivation – especially with today’s hectic lifestyles. But if you’re struggling with problems such as anxiety, depression or stress, it may well be worth your while to find the time for some light exercise.

Here are just 5 reasons that it could give your mental wellbeing a boost….


  1. Looping in your reward system

There’s a reason that we keep doing the things we enjoy, and it’s a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Amongst having other functions in the brain, dopamine is involved reward, pleasure and soothing responses in the brain.  It is also involved in reducing experiences of stress too.  Any forms of physical exercise have been shown to increase the release of dopamine in the brain.

Prior to beginning regular exercise, it can be hard to find the motivation, but once your dopamine-based reward system kicks in, you’ll find it much easier to get going. This is one of the reasons exercise is so rewarding, and a direct example of the role your brain plays in the whole thing.


  1. A Healthy Outlet For Frustration

We all have bad days. Heck, some of us even have bad weeks, months, or years. One of the things that regular exercise does is allows us a safe and cathartic opportunity to vent intense and unpleasant feelings in a healthy and safe way. Whether that’s through beating an opponent in a fierce game of squash or simply smashing your personal best lap time, channelling anger and frustration into energy output via exercise is a very healthy way to balance your state of mind.

As with all things, balance is they key here as overstimulating yourself through exercise can also be unhelpful at times.  If you’re able to use exercise as an immediate tool, it could be really helpful…


  1. Experience Mindfulness In Action

Mindfulness is the act of bringing our focus entirely into the present. This lets us reframe our problems and find potential solutions that we may not have thought of before. The practice of mindfulness requires some personal discipline and quiet meditation, but there are a range of ways that mindfulness can be brought into day-to-day activities.  Movement based mindfulness is one of them.

When we exercise or take part in sport of any kind, our focus shifts entirely to what we are doing. That could be a football, the number of lengths we’ve swum, or a free-weights target. Whatever the reason, this re-focussing of our mind can create the small gap we need to provide clarity and relief from negative thinking and other unproductive thought patterns.

Other movement based approaches that focus even more on the process of mindful attention and awareness are pilates, yoga and tai chi – together with many martial arts.


  1. Improved sleep

Who doesn’t enjoy a good kip? Getting enough sleep is one of the fundamental aspects of a healthy mental state, with sleep problems being associated with a wide range of mental health problems.

If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia, your mental wellbeing can suffer through no fault of your own. That’s where physical exercise comes in handy. By fully using your body during the day, you may find that your sleep improves – whether you want it to or not!

Sleep is made up of a number of parts including lighter and deeper periods of sleep that the body cycles through.  Research has consistently shown that exercise can be directly linked to having a longer total amount of sleep, as well as longer periods of deeper sleep, and shorter periods of rapid eye-moment sleep (REM sleep.)


  1. A natural increase in feel-good brain chemicals

Have you ever heard of the ‘runner’s high’? This is a fancy term for a very simple process: the release of endorphins into the blood-stream during exercise. Endorphins are the brain’s feel-good chemical, and they’re essential to keep us motivated and happy on an ongoing basis. People that take regular exercise benefit from increased levels of endorphins and hence can enjoy more contented lives.  The great thing is, that the more you exercise, the more your body builds up an expectancy for positive emotional changes and the release of these ‘feel good chemicals’, which means that you are likely to get larger and longer lasting benefits the more you exercise.

In fact, clinical guidelines suggest that for people with more severe episodes of depression exercise may be even more helpful the psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy!

This isn’t a be-all-and-end-all solution of course, and your mileage may vary, but it’s clear that regular exercise causes the release of endorphins from the brain. So if you’re feeling down, a run or brisk walk might be just what the doctor ordered.


There are plenty of exercise options out there for you to choose from, so why not look into the choices in your local area? You may just be surprised at what a huge difference just 30 minutes of exercise per day can make. You’ll look better, you’ll feel better, and may even enjoy changes such as a greater sense of self-worth. It really is a win-win! So what are you waiting for?

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